HOOVER, Ala.—Georgia coach David Perno was embarrassed by his team's showing in Wednesday's 10-0 loss to Vanderbilt. Not because Vandy one-hit and run-ruled the Bulldogs, but because the team simply did not put forth a good effort, even with its season on the line (Georgia needs three wins at the SEC tournament to finish above .500 and be eligible for the NCAA tournament).
So he tried to deliver a message to his team afterward.
"It wasn't necessarily PG rating," Perno said of his address to his team after the Vandy loss. "I told them flat out: You just don't want to be remembered—we don't want to be the sympathy team, the team that had some adversity in the year, played the tough schedule. We want to be respected. Last night we didn't play like that. If you don't go where you want to go, at least show your identity, and I thought we did that today."
Georgia was much crisper in a true elimination game against Auburn, which needed just one win to ensure a winning record and at-large eligibility. The Bulldogs erased a 2-0 deficit with three runs in the sixth, keyed by Zach Cone's RBI double, and sent the Tigers packing, 3-2. Lefthander Alex Wood threw his first complete game of the season, allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out eight for the Bulldogs.
"If we don't win we go home," Cone said. "We were pressing yesterday. We were all excited. Right off the bat, Coach said, take a deep breath. Our mindset was just to relax and have fun, give it our all today, no matter what."
Georgia's offensive approach was atrocious on Wednesday, when Vanderbilt did not record a single assist in the seven-inning game. The Bulldogs hit just two balls on the ground all game, hitting 13 balls in the air and striking out six times. But on Thursday they did a better job executing their offensive plan, hitting 11 balls on the ground in nine innings. With the new bats, teams that hit a lot of flyballs rarely succeed, because balls hang up in the gaps longer. Against Auburn righty Derek Varnadore, Auburn quickly went to a two-strike approach even in 0-0 counts.
"What we've been trying to do for a couple days is put the ball on the ground," Perno said. "We haven't done a great job of it, but it was better today. And they made some mistakes, so we were fortunate."
That's Auburn's season in a microcosm: An ultimate Jekyll-and-Hyde team, the Tigers will look great for eight innings but make crucial mistakes in one inning, and other teams have capitalized. Auburn finishes 29-29 overall, and as its coaches and players look back on the season, they'll doubtless find a host of missed opportunities—and had they converted on just one of them, they'd likely be headed to regionals next week.
"It's definitely disappointing," senior Kevin Patterson said. "We finished 29-29, and looking back on the season, we had a lot of opportunities to finish games. We blew some leads, we struggled midweek. It catches back up to you, and that's what happened to us. We didn't have the year I wanted to have, it didn't end the way I wanted it to end. I thought we had a good squad that could go to regionals, super regionals. But it didn't work out. Very disappointing."
"Anytime your season ends, it's tough to accept," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "But we certainly put ourselves in this position . . . We've got to continued to build depth on this team and move forward. A lot of midweek games came back to bite us. In weekend games, I thought we competed with the very best in the country, unfortunately we were just not deep enough to compete midweek. Obviously we'll address that when the season ends."
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